Joco Diversions

Emily Parnell: Maybe if we didn’t make such a fuss, we could get rid of head lice for good

The Kansas City Star

I really can’t write about someone else’s lice, I thought to myself. Nobody wants their infestations aired to the world — that would have to be a personal story.

It wasn’t a prayer, but God was listening and rained a family of bugs upon my head, just so that I could write this column in good conscience, I suppose.

‘Tis the season. Cozy sweaters, adorable hats, snotty noses and (I whisper, wincing with pained expression), lice. Across the nation, giggling grade-school girls with beautiful tresses and spunky headwear are scratching their scalps. They’re unaware of the bustling neighborhoods hidden in their hair. As our kiddos hug their friends, adventuresome immigrant lice hop head to head, ambitiously homesteading on lands afar. Possibly in my house — or yours.

Some of you may be jeering, pointing fingers, squealing COOTIES! It’s OK. Because the rest of us, those who have been through it once (or twice, or more) know the lice-a-go-round is nonstop, and its tickets to ride are plentiful.

I’m not ashamed. Well, truth be known, I am totally embarrassed, but why should I be? Why the taboo? Why the protective laws that prevent schools from alerting parents of the presence of head lice among their children?

I get it, nobody wants their child singled out. Kids can be mean and make fun of each other. You don’t want people running the opposite direction screaming “Cooties!” You wouldn’t want someone thinking your poor little kiddo is contagious. Except, they are — and you may not know it.

What would happen if instead of acting as if lice were a horrible, dirty little secret that must be hidden, we simply informed others they might have been exposed? Is it possible we could actually beat them? Eliminate them?

So, I’ll be first. I had lice. They’ve been treated, they’re gone, my family is clear, and we’d like to keep it that way. I’m not dirty. I shower. I do our laundry and wear clean clothes. I’m up-to-date on all my shots, floss regularly, and I wash my hands after using the restroom. I’m as clean as you are, which perhaps made those bugs actually seek me out. I’d be a great choice for a selective clan looking for an especially nice place to raise their family. They found relative safety, their nits camouflaged in the silver-gray roots of my hair. Being a naturally itchy person, it took me a while to realize that my itching was perhaps due to something other than the weather or allergens in the air.

I hightailed it to the drugstore, bought the pesticide shampoo, and read the instructions. Have you read them? The health hazard warnings, the extensive housecleaning, the warning that unless every single nit can be removed, the lice will return. To paraphrase, the label states clearly, “You have now died and gone to hell.”

One thing God has given me (other than the lice) is a thick head of hair. It’s very fine, yet profusive. And nits are quite tiny. Tinier than my aging eyes can make out — even with my magnifying reading glasses. Could I ask my poor husband to devote hours of his time to combing out my hair? It felt hopeless.

But, don’t worry, I bear good tidings.

I began to research. Should I use mayonnaise? A lice-removal service? How long could they live off a human, without a supply of blood to suck? Could I buy a different product?

I ran across reviews for a product called Licefreee. Its main ingredient sodium chloride (i.e., table salt), a $12 price tag and available two blocks away at my nearest Walgreens. I decided to give it a whirl. The Amazon reviews suggested buying a special “Terminator” comb — which I ordered with rush delivery.

I followed the directions, which weren’t daunting in the least. I sprayed it in, left it in overnight, washed, then combed. It worked! I re-treated a few days later for the sake of safety, but as far as I can tell through my (somewhat obsessive) checking, it did the trick.

Lice always have their little suitcases packed, ready to venture to a new scalp — a new frontier — a new adventure. Do you know what would be really great? Let’s do each other a favor and stop making a pariah of someone with lice. Spread the word, tell your kids to be kind, and kill the little suckers.

Overland Park mom and freelancer Emily Parnell writes weekly.